After Colvin was arrested and charged with violating segregation laws [for refusing to give up her seat on the bus], disorderly conduct and assault, black leaders met with police to try to resolve the case. Among those present was the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, then 26, who had just arrived from Atlanta to become pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church.
The idea of a bus boycott, which King went on to lead, was gaining momentum in the black community, Hoose said, but its organizers didn’t think Colvin was the one whose case should trigger such a risky campaign.
“It always gets to the point where she’s deemed unacceptable to be the face of the movement,” the author said. She was described as “feisty” and “profane” — even though she never used foul language — at a time when black leaders were bent on someone who would project an image of unimpeachable integrity.
Hoose suggested that other factors also may have come into play. Colvin had dark skin, at a time when fairer skin carried more status among blacks. [Me: it still does.]
She also came from a neighborhood of unpaved streets lined with shotgun shacks and outdoor privies.
To complicate matters, Colvin discovered during the ordeal that she had been impregnated by a much older, married man. When the pregnancy was discovered, she was expelled from school.
Black churches and community groups raised money to pay for Colvin’s appeal. The judge dropped two of the charges but kept the conviction for “assaulting” officers who dragged her off the bus.
She was ordered to pay a small fine.
Nine months after Colvin’s arrest, a lighter-skinned department store seamstress named Rosa Parks took her stance, winning a place in history.
While Ms. Parks’ actions are obviously worthy of the lauding they’re now receiving, it’s important to recognize that she was as much a “tired seamstress just wanting to go home,” as Betty Friedan was a “tired housewife.” Ms. Parks was, in fact, an officer with the Montgomery NAACP, and integrally involved with the planning and strategy of the bus boycott. She ultimately became the test case when NAACP officials realized that they weren’t going to get the sort of bus rider they needed to win the sympathy of the nation, so Parks was chosen to start the challenge.
There was an importance early on with casting her as the Everywoman who simply had had enough. Getting the sympathy and support of the average American was key when it came to changing segregation laws. I believe it would have been more difficult to rally people around the deliberate arrest of an NAACP activist compared to the happenstance arrest of an average citizen.
As a former leftist organizer, I know the importance of personal action and organizing to make a difference and admire Ms. Parks as the consummate civil rights activist. To continue the falsehood that she was a victim of circumstance, responding in the moment to her environment, a woman who had no plan that day, suggests that we all must wait for some passive event in our lives only to see if we have the courage in the moment to do something.
The actual history of Rosa Parks is a reminder of what an individual can accomplish. That big things happen by those who plan; the lesson is that we can and should as individuals make commitments and set out to make a difference.